Un Jardin sur le Nil Eau de Toilette by Hermès Review
Here is an example of an exquisitely original, complex, and fascinating scent that is still pretty and fresh enough to appeal to the average Hermès lover. For that balance of brilliance and politeness alone, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to rank Un Jardin Sur Le Nil among Jean-Claude Ellena’s finest creations.
This is the fruitiest of the Hermès Jardin line, but not in that gauche fleshy way you might picture. This is not the cloying sweetness or pulpy heft of pomaceous fruits, nor is it the juvenile simplicity of berries. Rather, the fruitiness here has a much leaner profile, more like citrus in weight than anything else, all juice and sparkle rather than a clumsy approximation of the flesh and skin textures of fruit.
In the bottle, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil smells intensely like a golden nectarous mango that feels a lot like sweet orange. In the first minute on the skin, it explodes into more of the same, a firework of golden sparkling juicy mango and dripping luscious orange juice.
This decadent aureate image lasts for all of a minute or two before the mango catches you watching and reigns itself in. It slips back into its skin, cleans itself up, and becomes like a slightly underripe greenish mango in the supermarket, surrounded by a faint halo of leftover sticky orange juice.
Like Guerlain’s Vetiver, Le Jardin Sur Le Nil uses a number of peripheral notes to support, explore, and enhance a central note in a shape-shifting and multi-dimensional love letter.
That central note in Vetiver is — I’ll give you three guesses — the eponymous vetiver, with supporting notes bringing out and emphasizing each of its many facets: its fresh sparkle, herbal timbre, faint hay-like animalic side, and so on. Here, that central role is played by mango.
It’s hard to tell where the mango ends and the rest of the notes begin, so well-constructed is this scent.
This effect is made easier to achieve, perhaps, by the slightly esoteric scent of a mango. While a note like vetiver, full-bodied and distinct, derived from long-established select oils, is more readily consistently identified among different fragrances, a rare construction of mango faces wearers with a blank slate, ready and open to see one individual interpretation of a complex and little-explored idea.
Or, to put it more plainly: I know what vetiver oil smells like. I have no idea how the perfume essence of mango is supposed to smell. Thus, it seems the mango note is not built around one established natural material or molecules mimicking it, but around recreating the sensual experience of eating a real mango.
Or, more accurately, holding a mango in the supermarket, weighing it in your hands, examining a pile to pick out a good one: this is an unpeeled, just slightly underripe mango, complete with a bitter green skin containing quantities of toxins that are too small to kill you, but too large not to taste.
No, for the most part, this is not a golden overripe mango cut wide open and dribbling sweet nectar down your chin. That’s far too decadent and sensual for Hermès, though I would absolutely adore getting to try such a mango as well. This mango has the classic restraint and put-together-ness of the house, staying primly within its sturdy skin, being slightly green so as not to become dissolutely sweet.
Still, although this mango is clean and polite, Sur Le Nil lacks some of the over-polished, over-atomized, cleaning-product abstraction of many other fragrances in the line. The mango concept and construction is so fascinating and palpable that the heart of Sur Le Nil lies more squarely in the land of real things than most Hermès scents.
Another feat of Le Jardin Sur Le Nil: it manages to be mildly refreshing without relying on harsh clean-laundry-scent molecules, aqueous notes, or even abstract menthol-shaped green notes. Rather, the spray of citrus, the sour streak in the mango, and the textured tomato leaf tricombs provide a subtle refreshing vibe from diversified sources. This doesn’t scream “This is a summer fresh scent!” nearly as loudly as something like Le Jardin de Monsieur Li: it feels much more versatile in its weight, temperamentally matched for hot weather but appropriate on cooler days when worn with the right sunny and clever disposition.
This is less of a purely sunny-cheerful-romantic scent of flirtation and laughter, of dancing and sun the way Le Jardin De Monsieur Li is. Rather, the sophistication here feels a touch more intellectual and complex, sweet and sour, equal parts optimistic and sarcastic. It retains the classic elegance and poise of a clean and tidy Hermès perfume, albeit with a uniquely witty twist.
The orange and grapefruit lend the mango construction much of its light, wan, warm-colored sparkle. The opening is a burst of sweet orange, delicious and delirious but not so sweet or fleshy as to be edible. The grapefruit, on the other hand, adds a grumpy counterbalance, a yellow sparkle of sourness and a suggestion of bitter rind.
The mango gets a little more green and underripe as time goes on. This is a distinct mango skin, green, yellow, orange, and red. There’s a slight sour tang to the juice, a tiny bitter side to the skin, a hidden sweetness whispering underneath. It’s a gorgeous mango note. There aren’t many out there to compare it to, but it cuts no corners. It’s simply stunning.
The character of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is warm and sunny. Not as sparkly and sunny-bright as Li, but juicier. Not as light-soap-powder-froufrou as some of the others, like Un Jardin en Méditerranée. It’s light and pretty, but with more interesting and natural substance than the rest of its sisters. The edges of each note are not quite as shaved off here. They aren’t whittled down quite as far to an over-airbrushed perfect and clean absolute. No, there’s a touch more texture and substance to Sur Le Nil, making this a deeply rewarding fragrance experience.
Two hours in, a faint warm undercurrent becomes apparent, just the tiniest hint of warm spice. It’s the faintest touch of cinnamon, mellowed by a pinch of soft amber labdanum.
Meanwhile, the green side of the mango is augmented by some very faint vegetal notes: tomato and carrot.
A bright green tomato leaf note stretches lazily through the middle of the fragrance. Impressively, it feels less cleaned-up and more realistic than most tomato leaf notes do: besides the green freshness I can sense the distinct aroma of a tomato leaf’s prickly green tricombs, leaking a neon green juice that stains your hands dark brown for days, giving you tomato hands.
That’s a distinct prickly vegetal quality of real tomato plants that most tomato leaf scents, however lovely — Diptyque’s L’Ombre dans L’Eau comes to mind — skimp on in favor of a smoother sheer green scent. Un Jardin Sur Le Nil has the most realistic tomato leaf note I have smelled so far, and it is deliciously distinctive.
I can smell the small, green, underripe tomatoes, with their similar tricomb tomato scent inherited from the leaves that taught them to protect themselves against hungry animals.
If there’s anything of carrot here, it’s a very subtle, well-blended orange sweetness. It’s the smell of a wet, freshly peeled big orange carrot, which, unlike the underripe green tomato, is sweet, starchy, and ready to be eaten. The effect is quite subtle, but it lends another dimension of heft to the fascinating green-yellow-orange-red mango note. In the past I’ve gotten an incredible realistic carrot note in the very first minutes of the opening, but it seems that in the most recent formulation this has receded a few steps to let the oranges and mango introduce themselves first.
The blending here is exquisitely smooth, with each note blending seamlessly into the next and the fixative bottom notes keeping a hint of sparkling mango present all the way through the drydown to the end some six hours in. (See, this is why bottom notes are important. Take notes, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.)
Around hours three to four, that green mango starts to fade from its dominant role, becoming one of a number of equal voices in harmony. The florals come out to play, led by a very pretty hyacinth, singing a pure, sweet note, but softly enough so as not to be overwhelming.
Perhaps a soft peony builds up the gentle, hazy body of the floral accord, scarcely noticeable but adhering the rest of the flowers together nicely.
By the fourth hour, the lotus is having her solo. This is a delicate, light aquatic floral note. It, along with the herbaceous suggestion of bulrush, make up first and only real hint of aquatic freshness to this scent. Yet when it comes to the forefront, you realize that very subtle planty-aquatic accord has made up a central piece of the cohesive whole all along.
The ad copy for the Jardins never really lands for me, but the light and airy aquatic lotus here really does make me think of rafting along a cool, serene, impossibly clean river.
Blending a tasteful aquatic suggestion into a composition that isn’t meant to be a bright, loud blue designer fragrance is hard to do. Jean-Claude Ellena knocks it out of the park with this one. The aquatic nuances of the lotus and bulrush plants are subtle, defining themselves in negative space.
There’s no tacky calone-fresh molecule or challenging marine accord forcing the idea of water upon you. Instead, the lotus and the bulrush feel quite diffuse, spaced out, an even lighter and more watered-down watercolor than the rest of the composition. This light, airy diluted quality creates space for the imagination to fill in cool, fresh water lightly waterlogging the stems of the aquatic plants.
As the aquatic lotus gradually fades to meet the mango in the background, a comforting faint muskiness becomes increasingly apparent. It’s never loud or overwhelming, and it works even though a musky warm spice and amber finish seems entirely at odds with the fresh notes at the surface of Le Jardin Sur Le Nil. Once again, noticing the warm, musky, amber notes in the late drydown, you notice that just the slightest hint of them was hidden in the full body of the fragrance all along.
This musk is more plantlike than animalic. It’s musky the way English lavender is musky — although this doesn’t smell like lavender at all — with a gray, fuzzyish texture and a surprisingly sensual aftertaste, making me think of a woman with long, flowing silver hair and a rich, gravelly voice inviting you to come in.
This effect might be due, in part, to a suggestion of realistic, non-fantasy iris root. Its faint earthy and powdery qualities give some texture and heft to the musk, distinguishing it from other musks.
This is a pattern in the late stages of Le Jardin Sur Le Nil: what might otherwise be a fairly typical, predictable amber drydown mix is saved by subtleties of the notes that keep them interesting. It really feels as if deliberate artistry went into composing each individual note here and tweaking it to best fit the rest of the piece as it developed. It keeps your attention rather than floating off into boring cliché territory.
Because these warm and amber notes never come to entirely dominate the fragrance, the presence of the lingering mango and lotus accords keeps Le Jardin Sur Le Nil recognizable. Even as it gets slightly warmer and muskier, the watercolor lightness of the composition and the remaining hints of mango-lotus freshness keep the fragrance appropriate for warm-weather wear.
That warm undercurrent of cinnamon that peered through for a few seconds in the beginning has come to say hello again. This isn’t the most realistic cinnamon of any variety, but merely a cinnamon molecule lending a warmth and very faint spiced texture to the fragrance.
This warm cinnamon air swirls together with the musk and the expansive, mildly sweet amber fullness of labdanum. This is one of the sweeter labdanum notes I’ve smelled, amber with a very, very faint almost-marshmallowy nuance, soft and sweet with a streak of something like vanilla. Again, this might not sound like it gels with the dignified fresh notes, but this amber accord is subtle enough that it serves as a complement rather than as a confusing and cliché 180° fragrance change.
Among the amber accord there weaves one more surprise: a faintly smoky hint of burning incense. There are no particular spices or woods of note in the incense, besides blending with the warm cinnamon breeze, and it is more a tasteful, subdued smoke accord than anything else.
Yet this is the delicate swirl of dark smoke from an incense stick, not a loud and crackling bonfire. It wanders in faint whispers through the amber, musk, and warm spice bottom notes, occasionally showing its face to you for just a second.
Somehow, it seems to habitually hide behind the mango: when my attention is drawn to the remaining hint of mango in the drydown, I tend to find the incense there, on its edge like a charcoal-colored halo around the yellow-green fruit, accompanying it to your nostrils.
Altogether including its long skin scent tail, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil lasts some ten hours. Its evolution is just about done with the main beats by six hours in. Projection is small and fleeting, as with most of the rest of the Jardin line. This is a fresh Eau de Toilette here to keep you company throughout your day, not an obnoxiously loud clubbing fume cloud.
This is my favorite of the Jardin line for its originality and wit, as well as all the texture that went into constructing this multi-dimensional scent. The mango note alone is a masterclass in augmenting each facet of a central element with a series of complementary notes, like the citruses upholding its light freshness and sparkle. The blending of Sur Le Nil is exquisite and the concept is nothing short of brilliant. Numerous disparate accords weave in and out of one another as naturally as a fish weaving deftly through reeds in the waters of the Nile.
There’s more complexity here than there is in many of the other Jardins, and the result is a composition that feels fuller, more multi-faceted, and simply more satisfying to enjoy. For all its lightness and delicacy, it moves seamlessly through an impressive number of different highlighted phases, each of which emerges gracefully from the watercolors of the one before it.
I’ll admit this isn’t how I felt about Un Jardin Sur Le Nil at first.
When I first tried this fragrance a year ago, I wrote a decidedly different initial Fragrantica review. Usually, I draw on my notes and old reviews somewhat when writing these reviews, but my initial review was so different from my current opinion that I’m going to include its full text here as another perspective:
“In the first seconds out of the vial, this hits me with the most realistic (and, admittedly, only) carrot note I’ve ever smelled. That carrot doesn’t stick around long enough for me to analyze it, however; within half a minute, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil settles into a generically perfume-y, semi-aquatic underripe green mango smell. A hint of the carrot, along with the suggestion of something vaguely tomato-ey, linger in the background, while sour citruses uphold the illusion of the decently realistic underripe fruit. The vibe is aquatic, fresh, and clean, in a way that would be extremely generic if not for the unique vegetable accords and the lack of sugary sweetness.
Is it juicy and refreshing? Kind of. It’s aquatic and it’s got an underripe green fruit at the forefront. To me, however, this is like being served a soapy-clean slice of underripe mango fruit on a hot summer day, which is to say: thanks but no thanks, I’d prefer a ripe fruit picked fresh out of the earth, with a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon. Nonetheless, if you like clean, refreshing aquatic scents, and aren’t afraid of underripe green fruits and vegetals, this might be for you.
I know this is a summer scent, but the performance is a little light for my taste. It’s all but gone within three hours, fading away in a linear fashion without any interesting tricks, save a hint of warm, sweet smoke that comes out in the drydown. I don’t necessarily mind how linear this is, but the scent is not for me. I tire of it, and am simultaneously frustrated and relieved with how quickly it evaporates away.
I don’t know if it’s just the combination of a clean aquatic background and a tropical fruit, but this one leans shampoo-ey on me. It’s an odd organic shampoo bought at a health foods market, but a shampoo nonetheless. If you like clean, soapy, shampoo-ey fruity things, but you also want to explore something green and unsweet, give this one a try.”
So what changed?
Well, I had initially tried a sample of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil that was likely a few years old, while my most recent experiences are with a precious 5ml mini bottle from a Hermès boxed set of the Jardins. Perhaps the most recent reformulation of this one actually provides more clarity and longevity to Sur Le Nil, bucking the trend the rest of the Jardins have suffered, growing weaker and weaker with each batch.
But what changed most of all were probably my tastes, my nose, and my capacities as a reviewer.
I think there’s a sort of inverse bell curve when it comes to scents like this and olfactory enjoyment. If you don’t really pay attention to the notes and components of a fragrance and just splash it on and enjoy, a pleasant fresh scent like Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is satisfactory in that it is pleasurable. Then you get some experience discovering what you do and don’t like in a fragrance and paying attention to its different components. Suddenly you have the language to criticize parts of the experience that don’t wow you: a generic perfuminess, a boring clean-ness, a texture and style that isn’t your favorite.
And then, as time goes on and you get more experience and revisit a perfume, you gain more of an ability to parse notes, to put aside biases and appreciate brilliance and complexity in compositions that aren’t in your usual style. For me, this is one of those (as was Victoria’s Secret’s So In Love, for which I wrote a similarly middling initial Fragrantica review before being absolutely wowed by it a year later).
Yes, the mere exposure effect probably has a hand in this somewhere, but having not smelled Un Jardin Sur Le Nil for a year and coming back to it, I am delighted and surprised.
As someone who doesn’t love many fresh, light, clean sorts of scents, I always have difficulty finding good fragrances for hot summer days. The quality and uniqueness of the composition of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil make me eager to wear this one all through the long days of July and August. It’s a little prettier and more polished than most of my favorites, so I don’t know how well it fits me personally, but this is just too rich and exquisite a sensual summer experience to give up.
I used to perceive this as shampoo-ey and too clean and dull for my tastes, but the intriguing notes of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil have stood the best of time, and may have even gotten better with subtle reformulation.
This is a unique experience of a scent. There’s nothing else like it. If the thought of a refreshing blend of vegetal notes, sparkly citrus-y underripe fruit, very subtle aquatic notes, a quiet sweet floral streak, and a smoky incense-y amber musk intrigues you, give Un Jardin Sur Le Nil a try. This is more than just light, polite, and pretty (although those things are enough if you enjoy a scent). It’s inventive and original, and not one to miss from Jean-Claude Ellena.
Un Jardin Sur Le Nil deserves the praise it has received, with many (including myself) calling it their favorite from the Jardin line. If those notes look weird or off-putting to you, skip this one. But if you’re willing to try something a little more deliciously sui generis than other Hermès scents, you just might love it.
If you’re a fan of the light, sophisticated, watercolor aesthetics of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, you might like to check out the rest of the Hermès Jardin perfumes, including:
- Un Jardin en Méditerranée Eau de Toilette by Hermès
- Un Jardin à Cythère Eau de Toilette by Hermès
- Un Jardin sur la Lagune Eau de Toilette by Hermès
- Le Jardin de Monsieur Li Eau de Toilette by Hermès
Where to Find Un Jardin sur le Nil Eau de Toilette by Hermès
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